BROOKINGS – Don’t work with family, as the old saying goes. Apparently, four brothers who have found themselves happily employed at Clark Drew Construction never got the memo.
The eldest of the bunch, Sean Chandler, had a simple path to employment at Clark Drew: he didn’t know what he wanted to do after he graduated high school, and so he went to Lake Area Technical Institute for building trades. When he was done, Clark Drew was the first place he applied for work, and about 15 years later, he’s been there ever since.
Younger brother T.J. was similarly befuddled on his post-high school plans, and found himself going for build trades at Lake Area Tech as well. While he went to school, he worked for another company, but he didn’t like where he was. So he soon found himself working at Clark Drew, too.
“I remember me complaining about my job and Sean saying, well, come here. Pretty soon after that, it was the two of us trying to get Aaron to come work here (part time), then three of us to try and get Matt to come work here,” T.J. said.
Two more join
Matt, T.J.’s twin, initially thought he’d study civil engineering. After going into the Army National Guard, he knew he wanted to do something with construction instead, and began schooling for construction management at South Dakota State University.
He worked for another company around that time, but after graduating, his brothers talked him into working at Clark Drew. That was back in 2008.
“I was working for another company, but they were busy and getting into the commercial stuff, so I started helping (Clark Drew) on weekends or when it didn’t make sense to go to my other job, I’d help them out.
“We did side jobs together on weekends, and I got to know James (Drew) and he kept bugging me my last couple years in college, and I came on, which was neat – there were three of us here. Then Aaron was going to school and when he got done, James hired him, too. As we’ve got done with school, Clark Drew kept growing,” Matt said.
The youngest of the four, Aaron, began working for the company part time back in 2006, but was the last to join full time after going to school for construction management at SDSU.
Now at Clark Drew, Matt works as a project manager while the other three are job superintendents. As superintendents, they supervise projects on site while a project manager serves a similar role in an office setting.
It’s happened before
Clark Drew isn’t the only place they’ve found themselves working for together. The four of them were previously employed at Hy-Vee, and three of them – Matt, T.J. and Aaron – are members of the 740th Transportation Company in the National Guard.
But they were all drawn toward the same industry for a simple reason: they take satisfaction in working with their hands and seeing their finished work.
With each brother that joined, it became easier to talk the next one into it.
As Matt asked, as the company grew and they needed more workers, who better to get to work with you than your own brothers? But he liked what he saw of Clark Drew enough to put up with any lingering doubts he had about working with family.
“You definitely had in the back of your mind, do we all want to work together in the same spot? … I definitely had other options, but it seemed like … there was a lot of potential here,” Matt said.
Aaron was the last of them to start full time work there. “There wasn’t too much push there at the end for me to join Clark Drew. With the three oldest ones already established at Clark Drew, it was kind of an easy decision.”
They’re grateful that their stepmother, Norma, has made construction education her career at the Construction Management Department of SDSU, which helped the four learn early on that the industry was a fine choice for a career.
Comes with challenges
At the beginning, when most were still new in their jobs, it was more of a challenge working together.
“Especially for T.J. and I, we had been here the longest and then Aaron and Matt come on. Essentially those two are kind of above us, so it’s hard for us to take orders from them or them to try tell us to do things a certain way when we think it should be done another way,” Sean said.
They’ve made progress on communicating with each other at work through the years, but they’re still more blunt when talking with each other at work than with other workers.
“It’s almost too easy to communicate with one of these guys,” Matt said. “You can really be blunt about it and know how they’re going to take that. … We don’t communicate the same way necessarily when with a coworker. We’re not as sensitive to each other’s feelings or whatever. We’re just kind of point-blank about stuff and certain times, that helps, certain times, that doesn’t.”
“I think there’s been a few people over the years that have stood back and said, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you’re talking that way to each other,’ not realizing we’re related,” Sean said.
Then there are the times when people confuse one brother for another.
When twins Matt and T.J. were working on a lab remodel at SDSU, a professor approached T.J., Matt recalled. “He was out there and saw T.J. and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, Matt, you’ve gotten so skinny! You’ve lost a lot of weight; you look good, but is that healthy?’”
“We get that a lot,” T.J. agreed.
Keeping the four of them straight can be a tough task for some people that encounter them.
And given their competitive natures, working together helps keep them focused and working at their best. It also has the added bonus of upping the pace for their workers.
Old phrases aside, they believe they’re the exception to the rule of work and families. Key to that is not holding grudges. If there’s an argument, it’s short lived.
“Maybe a couple hours, and then we complain about it to the other one that wasn’t involved,” as T.J. said.
Still, there is that brotherly love among them, Norma said.
“They always took care of each other when they were little. I haven’t seen that change, that close bond. It was always there.”
And that’s ultimately what has allowed them to survive work with each other and thrive.
Contact Eric Sandbulte at [email protected]